“Dream” was the theme of YouthBuild Just-A-Start’s Poetry Night, an event that brought the local YouthBuild community together to express itself through spoken word. Approximately twenty students and ten staff from the program, along with YouthBuild USA representatives, Just-A-Start alumni, and community members, showed up to share poetry they had either written, or read and felt passionately about.
“It’s a tradition here at Just-A-Start,” said Alan Chazaro, the ELA instructor who organized the event. “It’s definitely one of those nights all of us remember at the end of the year.”
About a month before, students began preparing for Poetry Night by reading a variety of pieces, finding their poetic voices, and practicing their oration. Chazaro exposed his class to a range of topics and styles, but his goal wasn't necessarily to get students to create an original piece, it was simply to convince them to experiment with a form of emotional expression that may have otherwise gone untried.
“I’m very much about words being powerful,” he said. “This might not be something that you may ever do, but let’s all try it together, and have fun doing it.”
And they did. Even the more reserved students, who were hesitant at first, shared after witnessing the bravery of their peers and teachers to open up to the audience.
“We don’t always get to see those sides of ourselves,” he explained. “Students appreciate seeing each other, and staff in different ways – outside of the roles that we’re used to seeing each other in. Poetry night is very unifying because we’re all willing to take risks in front of each other and for each other.”
The pieces varied greatly in subject – from a poem titled “Hope,” to another called “Ode to Eva Mendez;" but more important than the topics of their poems was students’ willingness to share them.
Chazaro recalled one student in particular: “He said to me, ‘Alan, I don’t really want to do this.’ So I asked him politely just to try it, and he did. By the end of the night, unprompted, he had asked me on three more occasions to go up and share again – and he did. By the fourth time I had to turn him down because we didn't have enough time,” he laughed.
Having the theme “Dream,” meant that whenever the word was mentioned throughout the night, audience members that raised their hand would receive a prize. It also meant that everyone would eventually work together to create a group poem by completing the phrase “Dreams of…” on a piece of paper distributed to each table. The result was this inspirational collection of dreams:
YOUTHBUILD JUST-A-START DREAM POEM
I may not be free to do many things but nothing can stop me from having these dreams:
Dreams of salty air, long days, open roads, smiles, deep smiles, heavy laughter, hidden spaces found, money underground, eyes slowing.
Dreams of a community that puts dreams ahead of negativity.
Dreams of a healthy city that squelches racism, gentrification, injustices. A strong community that grows stronger and stronger and even stronger.
Dreams of a happy state of mind, balance in life.
Dreams of living comfortable and happy.
Dreams of getting back on that railroad to success and harmony and finesse.
Dreams of Pablo Escobar.
Dreams of a lifetime supply of chicken wings.
Dreams of having a big house paid for.
Dreams of a family close enough to hug and a life that is free of stress.
Dreams of graduating.
Dreams of making it big.
Dreams of cars, clothes & women.
Dreams of accomplishing my goals when people say I CAN’T.
Dreams of my car with rims trimmed down so low it hits the ground.
Dreams of being successful in school, life, etc….
Dreams, better yet, goals of becoming an independent individual with no chains and wings to soar.
Dreams of conflict that ends too soon, dreams of happiness always a choice.
Dreams of YouthBuild, dreams about life, be careful what you dream for, life can roll over like a pair of dice.
Dreams of seeing all my people free from the system.
Dreams of having chicken noodle soup for breakfast and cereal for dinner.
Dreams of making an upward wind in the downward spiral.
Dreams of knowledge. These dreams leave me wandering through a desert, thirsty, searching for a fountain of answers. It’s a mirage—I wake with only more questions.
Dreams of travelling to a new country just to see it, and learning the language so I can read all its books & stories.
“My main purpose as an ELA teacher is to show my students that they have voices and that they’re powerful and they need to be heard,” said Chazaro. “Their voices aren’t just those of individuals, they are the collective voice of a community.”
Read on for more original work from Poetry Night, and don’t forget to check YouthBuild Just-A-Start’s student blog for additional student essays and projects as they’re written.
A Woman's Worth
Holds you down when things get rough
Walks a mile, makes you smile, all while being true
Makes you realize that no one nor nothing else can compare to you
Independent in this world, making it her own
She believes she’s a queen sitting in her throne
Takes a whole lotta man to understand a woman's worth
But a real woman knows a real man comes first
I Am Like Poem
I am like the clock because I stay working
My life is like a book because the last chapter is when I die
I’m like the checkmark on the board because I stay checking people
I can open up like a door
Do we live in a safe environment?
With destruction planned by the government?
People from our community are blind
We look for freedom but freedom is hard to find
All we want is the truth
People try saying it public that’s why we rap in the booth
Is there an Illuminati?
Do people really sell their soils for a Ferrari or Bugatti?
It’s the end of time
When you start seeing all these crimes
But what people don’t realize
Is they have powerful minds
TRYING TO FIND YOU
When I look at the sky
the glory, I can feel it in my arms
but when I look down
I feel scared from that.
Winter storms have come
and darkened my soul.
After all that I've been through
who in the world can I turn to.
I would like to look to you
but stuck in this world
I can't really find you.
Everything dark around me
dead people walking in my path
trying to survive on my own
but I can't, I fell from a
and when I hit the floor
I wake up.
Hope isn't something you can achieve.
As long as you reach,
As long as you believe.
Hope is the thing you hold on to tight.
Even through the worst fright.
Enforce your might,
So no negativity can cloud your sight.
Your hope is too bright,
Nothing can disrupt this light.
This is your goal,
This is your hope,
So now is your time to fight.
For what you believe is right.
So take your beliefs,
And let them take flight.
The soft breeze floats by,
That forms the gentle ripples,
And makes the trees weep.
I'm different. I'm like an African
violet, exotic, rare, hard to find.
When you see me you know I'm
there, but you just can't figure out what
it is. I'm different. I'm like a
bike with 6 wheels. I'm different.
Am I too different? No.
Ode to Eva Mendez
Her hair is like a sunflower
as she stands nice and
tan like a baked potato.
Her laugh as soothing
as a breeze on the beach.
Her body is nice
And shaped, stands
nice and firm
like a peach tree
with good structure.
I also enjoy
the red dress
she wears on Fridays,
of a red tasty slosh,
nice to have.
I am a hero
I'm worth so much, never to be compared to a zero
I was raised to be equal and never say Negro
My mom and dad taught me not to steal
Always to be myself, kind, energetic, and real
I'm my own soldier, my own navy seal
I stand tall and will die with honor
And it’s all thanks to my mother and father.
The light is worth more than gold itself
They can change for heaven's light, it’s whatever
I am weak with no light, weak to gain health
Even if I go broke, I'll be clever
A man with no path is a man who's lost
A world with no planets or star
Is to give meaning to telescopes
With no light I picture crashing cars
No light is like hanging from yellow ropes
Light is what gives hopes to my economy
With no light energy I can't boost my battery level
No light is no warmth, no harmony
The light has been gone for far too long man
No light can transform a good man to the wrong man